Talking About Detective Fiction by P.D. James

This was a fascinating non-fiction turn by P.D. James.  In this book, she discusses the genre of detective fiction, the Golden Age of Mystery Writing, the “rules” of detective fiction, the rise of the hard boiled detectives, prominent female writers, and then individual components, setting, viewpoint and  people.  In particular she discusses that genre fiction has a place in writing just as literary fiction does.

We can honour and celebrate the genius which produced Middlemarch, War and Peace, and Ulysses without devaluing Treasure Island, The Moonstone, and the The Inimitable Jeeves.  The detective story at its best can stand in such company…

If the references are anything to go by, then P.D. James was a huge fan of Dorothy Sayers, particularly Gaudy Night.  She mentions a virtual who’s who of mystery fiction throughout the book.  Some of the authors mentioned include:

  • Agatha Christie (of course)
  • Margery Allingham
  • Dorothy Sayers
  • Ngaio Marsh
  • Wilkie Collins
  • Arthur Conan Doyle
  • G.K. Chesterton
  • Josephine Tey
  • Dashiell Hammett
  • Raymond Chandler
  • Colin Dexter
  • Reginald Hill
  • Ruth Rendell

This was a fascinating glimpse into P.D. James thoughts about detective fiction.  In particular, I would note the concept of traditional detective fiction as bringing order back from chaos.  I would recommend this to crime fiction readers and anyone interested in writing.